Colorado Rates a "B" for Medical Marijuana Access

By Thomas Mitchell for Westword

Colorado used to to be one of the few states in the country with legal medical marijuana. But that has changed rapidly, with the majority of the states in the United States offering some kind of access to medical marijuana. According to a prominent advocacy group, however, many of those states put severe restrictions on MMJ, making Colorado's program look robust in comparison.

Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access just released its annual report card, which gives a brief history of medical marijuana in this country and then grades and ranks all the states with MMJ programs. The 187-page report evaluates each one according to five categories:

  • Patient rights and civil protection from discrimination
  • Access to medicine
  • Ease of navigation
  • Functionality
  • Consumer safety and provider requirements

The categories are divided into sub-classes, with varying percentages of points given to each sub-class. For example, in the "Patient rights and civil protection from discrimination" category, a state could be awarded forty points for arrest protection, ten points for parental rights protections, and three points for out-of-state reciprocity.

Colorado sat in the upper half of the ranked states, receiving a B- grade overall (80.33/100) and scoring over 86 out of 100 in every category but one. Although the state's functionality, ease of navigation and access to medicine all rated high, its patient rights and civil protection scored a dismal 62/100, getting zeros for parental rights protections, DUI protections and employment protections. And Colorado's score was actually ten points higher than last year's grade.

California scored the highest, receiving a B+ (89.8/100) while rating better than Colorado in every category. The lowest score went to Wisconsin (23.4/100). Eighteen F and D scores were issued altogether, and seventeen states received Bs, with the rest receiving Cs; no U.S. state or territory received an A score. "As of 2017, none of the state laws adopted thus far can be considered ideal from a patient’s standpoint. Only a minority of states currently include the entire range of protections and rights that should be afforded to patients under the law, with some lagging far behind others," the report reads.

Many of the states receiving low grades performed poorly because of the difficulties involved in obtaining an MMJ recommendation, or because of the lack of medication available. "For example, patient advocates debate whether or not to call Louisiana a medical cannabis state, due to the strict limitations of that state’s law, and the fact the state still does not yet have an effective distribution system," the report reads. "Louisiana law ostensibly protects qualified patients from arrest and prosecution, but the state’s dispensing facilities (which are both academic institutions) have failed to become operational."